2008 Portability Study: Portability rules

Seventy-five percent of operators are looking to grow their grab-and-go business.

“In the last three years, the numbers have been trending downward a bit,” she says. “Our total meals for the system are up, so students are going [back] a little more to the dining halls, rather than takeout.”

Despite growing concerns about the role packaging plays in adding to the waste stream, plastic and foam still rule when it comes to portable foods. On average, 60% of respondents said they use plastic wrap or containers. Fifty-three percent offer foam containers, 49% use plastic clamshells, 48% use plastic salad bowls with clear lids and 42% use paper containers.

Only 28% offer biodegradable containers, with colleges and universities (47%) most likely to make such packaging available. Only 15% of schools make use of biodegradable packaging.

Pricing, of course, is one issue with biodegradable packaging. But some operators say it is becoming less expensive to buy such materials. Martha Jefferson’s Boucher noted her department was given administration’s blessing to purchase more environmentally-friendly packaging as prices began to inch closer to what it costs for other types of portable packaging.

Some operators and food management companies are looking to deal with the packaging issue by making reusable bags, which customers can then carry with them whenever they want food to go. Aramark, for example, rolled out its “Grab and Go Green” bags at B&I accounts on Earth Day.

But perhaps the most interesting approach to packaging can be found at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where Dining Services is using containers with aluminum bottoms.

“We partnered with an environmental residence academic program,” explains Amy Beckstrom, director of Dining Services. Every year they study a different component of dining services. Their recommendation, after looking at foam versus plastic versus paper, was that we should use aluminum-bottomed grab-and-go containers.”

Beckstrom likens the new containers to the old TV dinner-style packaging. She says the program studied the carbon footprint made by manufacturing and recycling the aluminumware and found that it was smaller than other types of packaging.

“We may have the ugliest containers out there, but we do market that fact, saying, ‘This is why you’re seeing these types of containers.’ We serve everything in them; we eliminated Styrofoam and clamshell containers.”

Beckstrom adds the department also offers customers reusable bags.

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